Maine Stonewalls Don't Always Serve As Boundary Markers

If you live in Maine, you've probably seen old stone walls meandering their way through the woods. These stonewalls often follow property lines marking the boundaries between two plots of land. If you have recently purchased land that has a stonewall separating your property from your neighbor's property you may assume that the stonewall is the legal boundary line, but this isn't always the case. You may need to hire a land surveyor to find out for sure.

Why is it important to know if the stonewall marks the legal boundary?

The state of Maine is an adverse possession state, which means that if your neighbor is aware that the stonewall actually rests on your property, but he knowingly occupies, cares for, or uses the portion of your land that rests on his side of the stonewall, he can gain legal possession of that parcel of land. When you are dealing with a large plot of land, this can amount to a substantial amount of land that you may be required to legally forfeit to your neighbor unless you voice your objections to his use of the land. Before you do this, you need to know whether the stonewall marks the boundary between your land or if it resides on your property.

How do you know if the stonewall accurately marks the boundary?

If you are unsure of the exact boundary of your property, a land surveyor can clear that up for you. He will assess the land according to the existing deeds and determine the border between the two plots of land. He will mark the boundary with his own monument, which may consist of nothing more that a metal spike and a small metal tag identifying the location as the boundary line between the two plots of land. The tag will include his (or his company's name) and the date of the survey. The official land survey will take precedence over the presumed boundary set by the stonewall.

Why would a stonewall be misplaced?

There are a number of reasons why the stonewall may not mark the exact border between two plots of land.

  • Lack of Technology: Older surveys are less accurate than those performed today. Modern technology allows surveyors to use GPS equipment and identify the exact borders of a property according to the dimensions outlined on the deed.

  • Shifting Geographical Features: In the past, people often relied on landmarks such as large boulders, trees, streams or other geographical features to mark property lines. These features can change or shift over time altering the assumed boundary markers between two properties.

  • Origins of the Stonewall: Some stonewalls were erected by the landowners to mark the property line between neighbors, but that wasn't always the case. Stones removed from fields and farm areas were often piled along the perimeter of the field and later grew into stonewalls. Over time, the stonewall may have come to symbolize the border between properties, even if it was several feet to either side of the actual property line.

What happens if the boundary line is wrong?

If the land surveyor determines that the stonewall does not mark the property line, he will identify who the stonewall belongs to. Sometimes, the stonewall meanders from one plot of land to another, making you and your neighbor each owners of portions of the stonewall. You and your neighbor may choose to accept the stonewall as a boundary and accept joint ownership of the wall, or you can choose to take ownership of the stonewall only in the sections that reside on your property.

Who is responsible for a stonewall that marks a boundary?

Responsibility for the care and upkeep of the stonewall is shared if the stonewall marks the boundary between your land and your neighbor's land. Under amiable circumstances, both parties contribute to re-stacking stones when they collapse or to adding new stones to the wall to keep it looking good. Neither you nor your neighbor can disassemble, move or otherwise alter a jointly-owned stonewall without the permission of the other party.

If there is a stonewall on your new property or between your property and your neighbor's property and you have concerns about ownership, contact a land surveyor from a company like Krause & Gantzer to determine who the wall belongs to.